e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
The sister ships Viking I and Viking II of Thoresen Car Ferries entered service from Southampton to Cherbourg and Le Havre in 1964 and almost instantly revolutionised the nature of English Channel ferry operations. Even the Townsend Free Enterprise series up the coast at Dover were conservative and traditional in comparison to the stylish and modern Norwegian-built sister ships. Taking up service in a Western Channel sector British Railways had previously abandoned as uneconomic, Thoresen was profitable virtually from the start - with the right ships on the right routes, money was there to be made. With drive-through vehicle decks and modern interiors, the sisters made a huge impression, helped in part by the publicity generated as Viking II undertook a round-Britain cruise at the end of the first Summer season. Both ships were registered in Oslo and the second of the pair briefly wore the name Car Ferry Viking II due to there being another Viking II on the Norwegian register when the ship entered service.

Whilst the addition of a third sister,
Viking III, in 1965 helped to cater for the demand the new ships had created, by the early 1970s the by then merged Townsend Thoresen were looking to a next generation of ships. These appeared in the form of the 'Super Vikings' from Ålborg in the mid-70s and the original Viking class were slowly edged out of mainstream operations. Covering for other ships in the combined fleet was commonplace in the winter, in addition to the charter work which kept the ships employed out of season. Eventually, the Viking II was sold out of the fleet in 1976, but to a somewhat unlikely buyer - British Rail/Sealink for their own Western Channel operations, albeit for Channel Islands service rather than to France in direct competition with her former owners.
Above: A sad looking Windward II at the shipyard in Trogir, Croatia where she languished between 2001 and 2003. In an echo of her pioneering days on the English Channel as one of the original Thoresen Vikings, she regained an orange hull during her aborted refit at the yard.
Below: Car Ferry Viking II in her English Channel heyday. The green superstructure which was part of the original Thoresen livery is clearly visible.
Sealink despatched the ship to their yard at Holyhead for an incredibly protracted overhaul, which was eventually completed thirteen months later. Renamed Earl William, the ship entered service from the new International Ferry Port at Portsmouth to Jersey and Guernsey. Following the arrival of Earl Granville in 1981, the Earl William was transferred to the Weymouth-Islands services.

After the privatisation of Sealink UK in 1984 the new owners, Sea Containers, announced the complete overhaul of Channel Island operations for 1985.
Earl William and Earl Granville were chosen for the new 'Starliner' and 'Bateaux de Luxe' services, which were to be a luxury, premium-cost affair. As such, both ships were despatched to Ålborg in Denmark for a thorough gutting of their passenger spaces. This unfortunately coincided with the loss of the traditional Sealink monopoly on the Channel Islands trade and newcomer Channel Island Ferries (CIF) soon took advantage of Sealink's high prices to take a majority of the market. After severe losses in the first season, Sealink cut fares for 1986, at which time Earl William received a new Motorists' Lounge extension to her upper passenger deck. Although they managed to claw back some of the lost market share, it was too little, too late and Sealink and CIF announced a merger after the 1986 season. There followed a protracted sit-in by Sealink crews on their ships and the joint service never got off the ground. The Earl William never returned to the Channel Islands.

The redundant ship was used for a period as an accommodation ship for asylum-seekers at Harwich, but after breaking free from her moorings during the Great Storm of October 1987, local pressure forced this arrangement to end.
After a further period in lay-up, the
Earl William was selected to launch Sealink's new Liverpool-Dun Laoghaire service in April 1988. Although hopes were high for the new route, the growing financial pressure on Sealink's parent, Sea Containers, in the face of an aggressive take-over attempt by the Temple Holdings consortium (within which Stena Line wanted the ferry operations of Sealink) meant that anything loss-making or marginal would be axed. The Earl William's Liverpool route closed in early 1990.

Final stints of service with Sealink followed, most notably a problem-strewn period covering the Folkestone-Boulogne route in the summer of 1990. But final sale out of the fleet was a formality and she took up the next phase of her career when she was disposed of to Adriatic operators, the name becoming
Pearl William.
Above: Earl William in Sealink UK livery in the late 1970s.
Above: An overhead shot of Earl William in full Sealink/BR livery.
Below: The Sealink British Ferries days at Portsmouth. Earl William arrives from the Channel Islands whilst St Catherine is outbound to the Isle of Wight. The date is July 1985.
Sealink's final scheduled international services from the port were in 1989; the Isle of Wight routes were stripped out of the sale to Stena and became Wightlink in 1990.
Sadly, the Pearl William's career was on a downward spiral by this stage - a quick-succession of ephemeral Adriatic operators followed: Neptunus Lines, European Seaways, P&L Ferries (as the Mar-Julia), Stern Lines (as the Cesme Stern). It was in the latter guise that the ship ended her operational career. Arrested in Bari in February 1998 she was detained there in an increasingly derelict state. A sale to a company called Windward Lines in 2000 provoked a flurry of activity - renamed Windward II, she was later moved across the Adriatic to a shipyard in Trogir where a refit was put in hand, the most noticeable external result of which was that her hull was returned to a Thoresen-like orange. Unfortunately, the money ran out and the ship became embroiled in a shipyard-owner dispute that kept her there for three years.

Although a return to operations seemed unlikely during her detainment, the
Windward II finally left Trogir in late 2003 and several weeks later arrived in Trinidad for further service. Sadly, further troubles lay ahead and, after a collision with a local naval vessel, the ship was again laid up.
Above: A grimy-looking Pearl William whilst in operation for European Seaways, still retaining the basic elements of the Sealink British Ferries livery.
Below: Windward II at her shipyard berth in Trogir, July 2003.
Below: Car Ferry Viking II loading cars at Cherbourg prior to another sailing across to Southampton. In the early days of their careers, it was not unusual for the Thoresen ships to have the company of one of the great Transatlantic liners in the French ports.
Click for larger image
Click above for a full general arrangement plan of the Viking II's twin sister, the Viking I
Below: The Prince of Brittany and the Earl William together at Portsmouth.